While we were researching our latest installment of MotorHome’s “Find Your Adventure” series, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (see “Uncommon Sense” on Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park), we came upon three side trips that might seem downright scary if they weren’t so breathtakingly beautiful.
So if you plan to follow our advice and head to Capitol Reef this summer, keep this trio of scenic detours in mind, all of which are worth extending your stay an extra day or two to see:
This 3,600-acre state park 32 miles north of Hanksville, Utah, is a little over an hour from the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center, but in some ways it seems like another planet. The park takes its name from the countless mushroom-shaped hoodoos, known hereabouts as goblins, that dot the rocky landscape. While this surreal place is not the least bit frightening during the day, well, let’s just say we wouldn’t want to be out here after the sun has set and the full moon has risen when shadows tend to play tricks on the mind.
A more adventurous alternative to the rightly famous Utah Scenic Byway 12, this 38-mile gravel road runs between the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it communities of Escalante and Boulder. Narrow and winding, it would literally be hell in your motorhome, but passenger cars can navigate it quite easily in dry weather as it reaches a peak altitude of 9,000 feet on the slopes of Boulder Mountain. The true high point though, is the historic 109-foot-long wooden Hell’s Backbone Bridge which features 1,500-foot drop-offs on either side, along with views into the ominously named Box-Death Hollow Wilderness.
Slot canyons are pretty much what the name implies — narrow clefts in the rock worn down over time by roaring flash floods into narrow passages that are just made for exploring. Spooky Gulch is just one of the remarkable slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument which abuts Capitol Reef National Park. This is by far the most adventurous of the three outings profiled here, so prepare ahead of time by learning a little bit about exploring slots here and mind the No. 1 safety rule: Namely, don’t go into a slot canyon if there’s even a hint of rain in the forecast because of the danger of flash floods.